ISIS, ca;iphate, child soliders, radicalization | Homeland Security Newswire

Islamic State schooled children as soldiers – how can their ‘education’ be undone?

What children have been taught
Military activity, superiority based on IS’s interpretation of Islam, and the need to defeat unbelievers are embedded in its school textbooks.

Various videos, produced both through journalistic investigation and by IS itself, show the more practical side of education under the group’s rule. Children are taught how to fire small arms and use hand grenades.

Although IS extensively forced children into its ranks, many joined voluntarily – with or without their families’ blessing. But, in the long term, it doesn’t matter whether a child is forcibly recruited or not. And this is the matter of gravest concern.

IS’s primary concern is building and maintaining the children’s loyalty. The phrase “cubs of the caliphate” is a microcosm of how it views them. Cubs are unruly, ill-disciplined and dependent on strong (sometimes violent) guidance from their elders.

However, with time, resources and patience they can turn into a generation of fighters and idealists who will foster IS’s ideology even if its current military setbacks prove terminal.

Programs need to take a new approach
Disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation programs designed to reintegrate child soldiers into post-conflict society have significantly progressed in recent years. This represents the continued evolution of military-civil partnerships in the quest for a conflict-free world.

But IS’s systematic and meticulous radicalization of an entire region’s children presents new challenges.

It’s understandable to interpret IS’s rapid retreat as its death knell, and thereby view traditional rehabilitation techniques as an appropriate remedy for yet another region recovering from violence at the hands of a radical armed insurgency. However, this conflict has been highly unusual in its pace, tactics and impacts – both now and potentially in the future.

So, we must revisit the fundamental assumptions of what it means to inspire peace within a society. This starts with the children subjected to the ideological extremism of IS and other armed groups.

If there is to be sustainable peace in the areas liberated from IS control, rehabilitation programs must be viewed as a community-wide process. Even if children did not directly participate in IS activities, the group has molded their worldview and underpinning life philosophies.

Such philosophies may be especially productive in a region where resentment of perceived foreign – Western – interference and exploitation is long-lasting and multifaceted.

What can be done
The regular processes of identifying child combatants, disarming and reintegrating them into their communities through rehabilitation (such as by ensuring they are physically and mentally capable of rejoining their communities) and reconciliation (developing peace, trust and justice among children and their communities) are all necessary. But they are vastly insufficient in this instance.

Rarely has there been such systematic youth radicalization and militarization. So, the international response must be equally far-reaching and methodical.

Rapid reimplementation and revisiting of pre-IS school curricula is of the highest priority. National and local governments should ensure children are shielded from further recruitment by instituting a curriculum drawn from principles of tolerance and inclusion.

It’s essential to develop locally run initiatives to measure the level of radicalization among a community’s children and to construct child-friendly spaces for young people to socialize, reconnect with their wider community and “unlearn” what they adopted under IS.

Such practices will help to heal the wounds of IS occupation and ensure the potential for cyclical violence is removed. Done right, it will hinder IS’s ability to rise anew.

James S. Morris Ph.D. Student in International Security and Child Rights, The University of Queensland. Tristan Dunning is Lecturer in Modern Middle East History, School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, The University of Queensland. This article is published courtesy of The Conversation (under Creative Commons-Attribution / No derivative)